Why Chris and Sarah Atkin will never for­get ty­ing the knot

Canal Boat - - CONTENTS -

Chris and Sarah will never for­get cruis­ing to their wed­ding - on a boat that Sarah’s folks had brought 180 miles to be there....

When you’re up against the clock, a nar­row­boat is un­likely to be your mode of trans­port of choice. But when the eas­ing of Covid-19 re­stric­tions per­mit­ted live­aboards to re­sume trav­el­ling on 1 June, my in-laws had lit­tle choice.

Al­ready de­layed once by the pan­demic, our wed­ding date had been resched­uled to take place in Cam­bridge on 18 June. Ho­tels at the time were closed and vis­its to the homes of friends or rel­a­tives were pro­hib­ited. This meant that if they were to stay for more than a day, Di and Mark needed to bring their home with them. So they be­gan the 180-mile jour­ney from Woot­ton Wawen on the Strat­ford-up­onAvon Canal in their two-year-old boat, En­bilulu.

The trip in­volved pass­ing through 138 locks as they trav­elled across the Grand Union Canal, up the Northamp­ton Arm, along the River Nene and across the

Mid­dle Level Nav­i­ga­tions, via the Den­ver Sluice, out onto the River Great Ouse and then down the River Cam. Usu­ally an un­re­mark­able stretch of wa­ter, the al­most to­tal ab­sence of traf­fic along the Mid­dle Level Nav­i­ga­tions meant that the wa­ter there was al­most com­pletely undis­turbed. Gaz­ing down as the boat moved along, it was as easy to spot fish as it is when look­ing at an aquar­ium.

Di and Mark made it through the fi­nal lock at Baits Bite just north of Cam­bridge in time for 18 June. Sadly, by this point it had be­come clear that their ef­forts would be in vain as wed­dings were still not per­mit­ted. While we were far from be­ing the only cou­ple to have their big day post­poned, we nev­er­the­less needed to get mar­ried as soon as pos­si­ble. My fi­ancé, Sarah, was due to be­gin a Fel­low­ship at Stan­ford Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia and I would only be able to travel to the States with her if we were mar­ried.

The new date was set for 1 Au­gust. Sarah’s par­ents were keen to ex­plore the lo­cal wa­ter­ways and they used the in­ter­ven­ing time to look out for seals and ot­ters on the Great Ouse. One par­tic­u­lar high­light was ex­plor­ing the Cam Lodes. These are man-made drainage ditches com­ing off the Cam, Wis­sey and Lark rivers which feed into the Great Ouse.

They would have liked to travel through Je­sus Green lock past the Backs of the most fa­mous Cam­bridge Univer­sity col­leges, but un­for­tu­nately en­gine pow­ered boats are banned from this stretch of the river be­tween April and Septem­ber to give the city’s fa­mous punts more space in the sum­mer months. In­stead, En­bilulu headed off in the di­rec­tion of Hunt­ing­don, Ely and Bed­ford.

Mean­while, we en­deav­oured to make the most of hav­ing the boat in Cam­bridge in ad­vance by in­cor­po­rat­ing her into the day it­self. For our plan to work, Sarah’s par­ents spent the night be­fore the wed­ding moored by Je­sus Green lock. There are a lim­ited num­ber of vis­i­tor moor­ings here as the majority of the bank is re­served for pri­vate moor­ing. Se­cur­ing a spot was made more com­pli­cated by the fact that vis­i­tor moor­ings can only be used for 48 hours, so En­bilulu couldn’t be moored there too far in ad­vance.

Leav­ing their moor­ing the fol­low­ing morn­ing, Di and Mark trav­elled north back towards Baits Bite lock to pick Sarah and I up close to our house. They had dec­o­rated the boat so that when we saw it, En­bilulu was adorned with white rib­bons and bal­loons. Filled with ner­vous ex­cite­ment, we hopped on, made a U-turn and set off back towards Je­sus Green lock.

One of the most mem­o­rable parts of a very mem­o­rable day was spent sip­ping cham­pagne while sat at the bow as we were car­ried for 40 min­utes along the River Cam towards the city cen­tre.

Sadly, due to lock­down re­stric­tions our friends could not at­tend the cer­e­mony, so some came to cheer us on from the river­bank in­stead. Count­less strangers

also waved at us and took pic­tures as Mark ex­pertly steered the boat be­tween the scullers.

En­bilulu was moored ex­actly where she had stayed overnight. Just when it seemed like our plan had worked to per­fec­tion, calamity struck. A hatch door on the boat fell off and sank to the bot­tom of the river. Of all the po­ten­tial is­sues we had con­ceived pos­si­ble, this wasn’t one of them. Although there was no way to make the boat se­cure, there was now only half an hour un­til the cer­e­mony was due to be­gin, so Sarah and I had to de­part to meet the regis­trar at the venue. As we walked across the bridge at Je­sus Green lock, we glanced back to see Mark out of his suit and tie and wear­ing his swim­ming trunks!

Our wed­ding ser­vice was held at the Cam­bridge Univer­sity De­bat­ing Cham­ber and, once Sarah and I had fi­nalised the re­main­ing de­tails with the regis­trar, we were pleased to see ev­ery­one (in­clud­ing Mark - now back in his suit) had made it in time for the cer­e­mony to be­gin. We were equally pleased to hear that the hatch door had been suc­cess­fully res­cued from the river and re­stored to its right­ful place.

In to­tal, 12 close fam­ily mem­bers at­tended our wed­ding. The venue’s 400-plus ca­pac­ity en­sured ev­ery­one cer­tainly had plenty of space to so­cially dis­tance.

Next time though, we’ll try to avoid need­ing any­one to jump into the river

Walk­ing out of the cham­ber as a mar­ried cou­ple, Sarah and I felt an over­whelm­ing mix­ture of delight and re­lief at hav­ing fi­nally tied the knot.

We walked back hap­pily along the river to our gar­den, where we shared the­o­ries over af­ter­noon tea as to how the hatch door had come off its hinges. Our best guess is that the star­board side of the boat had risen when some­one had stood on the port side. This small ad­just­ment caused the hatch door to be­come wedged onto the river­bank and when the boat sub­se­quently righted it­self, it lifted the door off its hinges. As a re­sult, it fell with an undig­ni­fied splash. Be­ing made of steel, it sank im­me­di­ately, and although we couldn’t see it on the riverbed, it was easy to find and get back onto the hinges.

Whilst we in­tend to hold another, big­ger cel­e­bra­tion in 2022, our in­ti­mate wed­ding was ev­ery­thing that we had hoped for. Next time though, we’ll try to avoid need­ing any­one to jump into the river.

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